Scot McLemore, manager of Talent Acquisition and Deployment at American Honda Motor Company, Inc., places technology trends in two categories: 1) technological advances specific to the products being manufactured and 2) Industry 4.0, particularly the internet of things (IoT). To prepare technicians for advancements in both categories, he suggests educators integrate information technology (IT) basics into traditional industrial maintenance programs.
“What’s important is that those graduates have a fundamental understanding of networked systems. What are IP addresses? How do I change an IP address? So as they are plugging their laptops into manufacturing devices, they have a fundamental understanding of how those things work. That’s what I’d like to see happen. I think that’s where programs are going to need to head. Because we talk about ‘Smart Factory’ and the network systems within industrial operations, and that’s where everything is headed.”
The capability of networked equipment to generate data about manufacturing processes and, increasingly, to communicate with other equipment will likely add another dimension to technicians’ work.
At Honda, technicians are responsible for troubleshooting and maintaining the equipment that operators use to build cars and other products.
As the amount of data generated from manufacturing devices and systems increases, McLemore expects technicians’ responsibilities will shift not only to include data collection but data analysis.
“What I think we’re going to make a shift to is those same technicians being able to analyze the data they are collecting to make decisions about preventive maintenance and things like that. I think there’s going to be a need for them to step into data analytics and have more skills to make the equipment run more efficiently and effectively,” he said.
This is a message McLemore hopes is conveyed to teens and young adults through manufacturing recruitment efforts like those he co-leads with the Central Ohio Manufacturing Partnership. This regional collaboration of manufacturers, educational institutions, and community organizations is part of an Ohio Manufacturers’ Association effort to develop the future talent pipeline for manufacturing.
He sees two benefits to publicizing the overlap of IT and manufacturing to the general student populations at community colleges and high schools. “One, [it] could give interest to someone about manufacturing who doesn’t know that is a part of manufacturing, and two, prepare them educationally about concepts that they can begin to put together.”
During a panel discussion at the 2020 Virtual ATE Conference, McLemore talked about Honda’s recent addition of laser braze welding technologies, which it is using to attach automobile roofs on vehicles built at its Marysville, Ohio, facility. He described how during the COVID-19 pandemic team members used remote technologies to instruct technicians working at facilities in Indiana and Canada about the lessons learned during implementation of the technology at Marysville.
During the telephone interview for this article, McLemore explained that new joining technologies are something that technical educators can teach with a broad approach.
“Not everybody needs to know about laser braze welding. But what we want our technicians to understand is the integration of that type of technology,” he said.
For instance, a robotics instructor could add machine vision to a robot to teach both how vision technology works and how the robot works. Adding another function to the robot, such as a pick-and-place device, would be a cost-effective way for colleges to build students’ understanding of the ways that manufacturers are using robots to complete production tasks.
When asked about technologies on the more distant horizon, McLemore said a colleague in an auto plant recently talked with him about cobots and their potential to work safely with humans. He also shared that industry colleagues are talking about the potential for artificial intelligence and machine learning to take Industry 4.0 to the next level.